We live in a time when most of us are disconnected from the communities in which we live. We don’t know our neighbors, rarely serve in our city, and the cast majority of the connections that we have there are digital. This disintegrating of community leaves people lonely and alienated, leads us to treat our neighbors with suspicion, and means that fewer people are hearing about Jesus.
For followers of Jesus, remaining isolated from the communities in which we live is not an option. We have been called by God to love our neighbors, to pray for our neighbors, and to serve our neighbors in the name of Jesus, so staying aloof and knowing no one constitutes serious disobedience to Jesus.
For those of us who grew up in communities that seemed more tightknit than our current ones, we should not spend much time bemoaning this situation, but rather we should begin mobilizing to address it. This situation offers us many opportunities to make an impact by being a friend to people, showing people hospitality, and by serving them in Jesus’ name.
If you have been distant from the community in which you live, here are six ways that you can engage with your community.
Spend Time in Your Front Yard
Architecture can tell you a lot about what people value. Drive through an older Southern town and you will see expansive front porches that harken back to the times when people stopped and visited with their neighbors in the afternoons. Compare that with the way many suburban homes are constructed now. (Mine included.) They typically have very small, unwelcoming front stoops and sprawling backyards. Everything about the way we build our homes now suggests that we want to shut people out.
The solution to this problem is simple–get out in your front yard. If you have children, take them out to play. Work in your front yard, wash your car in the driveway, or put a fold-out chair on your front porch so you can sit and read. Speak to your neighbors when you see them and be willing to linger in a conversation longer than you ordinarily would be comfortable doing. You will be surprised at how many opportunities you will have to serve your neighbors when you know them.
Join a Volunteer Organization
Volunteer organizations in most communities are suffering from a lack of participation. Many of them thrived in a different generation, but that is the case no longer. We should not greet this with indifference, as many of these organizations offer wonderful opportunities to get to know people in your community while serving children, the underprivileged, or neighborhood non-profits.
You might wonder what this has to do with living as a Christian in your community, but realize that it has everything to do with it. Christians long for the places where they live to be better because they are there. We want to see people helped and served. These organizations help us to serve needs in ways that our churches sometimes don’t have access to.
Be a Regular
Unfortunately, many of the interactions that we have with people are strictly transactional. We don’t know many people, so we only encounter them when they are holding up traffic, making too much noise, or taking too long to serve our table.
One way to remedy this situation is to frequent the same places in your community so that you get to know the people who work there and the other people who frequent them. Go to the same restaurants, coffee shops, gas stations, and grocery stores. Be kind, ask questions, listen, exercise patience, tip well. You will find that you have more opportunities for good conversations and chances to encourage people.
Serve with Your Local Church
Hopefully, there are events where your local church is engaging the larger community in a personal way. This might be something like VBS, a fall festival, or setting up a booth at a local event. These events give you an opportunity not only to serve your community in the moment but to build lasting relationships with your neighbors.
When your church calls for volunteers for these events, make the time to serve at them. Work shoulder to shoulder with your brothers and sisters in Christ. You’ll build good relationships with fellow believers and with your neighbors.
Go to Local Events
Most towns and cities recognize their neighbor problem and look for reasons to bring the community together. Stay informed about what is going on in your community and attend the fireworks show, Christmas parade, farmers market, spring festival, and high school football games.
When you go to these events, put your phone down and pay attention to the people around you. Do you see people that you recognize from the neighborhood or one of your children’s events? If it’s a longer event, arrive early and bring extra gear so you can share with the people around you. For example, if it’s the 4th of July fireworks show, bring extra juice boxes and snacks. With their parents’ permission, offer some to the children your kids start playing with. Have extra bug spray and a flashlight. You never know how something small like this gives you chances to meet people.
Subscribe to the Local Paper
Most communities have some type of local paper to keep people apprised of what is going on. Make sure that you subscribe to it and read through it every week. This gives you a sense of what is going on in your community and might alert you to opportunities to serve your neighbors.
We tend to roll our eyes at anything that we think will cost us money, but I just subscribed to our local paper for less than $5 a month. Also, isn’t the money worth it to better know your community?
Is the city better because I’m here?
When we think about our cities and towns, we think about the buildings, businesses, and services, but we should remember that the real heart of a city is its people. Therefore, when I talk about your city being a better place because you live in it, I mean this–are the people in your city served by your living there? Are more people encouraged? Do more people have a friend and experience less loneliness? Have more people been loved in the name of Christ and heard about him?
Start looking at your life. What is the first step that you can take to reenter and re-engage your community for the glory of God and the good of your neighbors?
“Cultivating a Deep Walk with the Lord“
For Further Reading:
The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon
Next Door as it is In Heaven by Lance Ford and Brad Brisco
A Meal with Jesus by Tim Chester